Dec 21, 2020
The rodeo dogfight of 2020 is over.
And what a fight it was. The year started out looking like one of the best that rodeo has ever seen. Rodeos were changing and growing on an individual basis. The Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo had moved into the brand-new Dickies Arena that was built with the rodeo first and foremost in their planning.
RodeoHouston was back in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association for the second time. And, that is where everything changed. On March 11th, 2020 officials had to cancel the remainder of the show because of COVID-19.
Rodeos across the country started cancelling and figuring out how to make a living rodeoing became a huge challenge. With fewer rodeos, the competition got tougher, prize money diluted, and it was a dogfight for every dollar. No longer could a contestant sneak over to a smaller circuit rodeo hoping to change their luck – everyone was there.
The dogfight continued at this year’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Arlington, Texas. It was better than expected for some and extremely disappointing for many others. Before competition even started, two contestants tested positive for COVID-19, Dona Kay Rule and Caleb Smidt. It was a huge disappointment for them and their fans. I’m among those fans, I couldn’t wait to see Dona Kay’s great horse, High Valor, run at Globe Life Field. I thought he would excel on that baseball field. He has been so consistent across the board and that has earned him two Purina Barrel Racing Horse of the Year Awards presented by the American Quarter Horse Association.
Winning the same title for tie-down horses was Pocketful of Light, aka Pockets ridden by Caleb Smidt. The horse has helped Caleb earn two world titles and a win at The American. Caleb also tested positive, so we didn’t get to see Pockets in Arlington either.
There were some other competitors that I missed watching at this year’s NFR. Who would have thought that Montana’s Ty Erickson, our 2019 world champion steer wrestler, wouldn’t be back to defend his title. And this was the first year since 2003 that we haven’t watched the sons of Bill and Evelyn Wright compete in the saddle bronc riding. Spencer just missed it finishing in 17th place. A factor in that was his nephew Stetson who moved into the top 15 during the final week of the season.
What a show those nephews put on. Rusty tied for the win in the first round. Ryder and Stetson tied for the win in the tenth. Ryder also won two, four, six and eight and Stetson got the buckle in seven. In round eight, Rusty finished in second and Stetson tied for third with Zeke Thurston.
Those young men rode their butts off in Arlington and made other bronc riders – and for Stetson bull riders – step it up a notch. Just in the saddle bronc riding, they won nearly a half-million dollars collectively. Add the $207,295 that Stetson won in the bull riding to the $468,379 that the three of them won in saddle bronc riding and it was a very profitable 10 days for the Wrights at $675,674.
Stetson and Ryder also became the first brothers to win world championships in the same year. Stetson won his second all-around title and first in the bull riding. Ryder won his second in the saddle bronc riding.
The dogfight in the tie-down roping came when Marty Yates from Stephenville, Texas came out guns blazing in round one. He finished at the top of the board with regular season leader Shad Mayfield right behind him. Marty won again in round 2, Mayfield came up empty. The gap was narrowing. It all came down to the 10th round where Marty finished in sixth place with an 8.1 second run. One-tenth of a second and he would have tied for fifth and the world championship would have been his. Instead, Shad won his first world championship by a mere $231.
No one can deny that Kaycee Feild is one of the greatest bareback riders of all time. He joined the ranks of Joe Alexander and Bruce Ford as a five-time world champion. Winning this one was different for the Utah resident. His world champion father, Lewis Feild, was watching from heaven instead of in the stands.
Anyone that picked steer wrestler Jacob Edler for their fantasy rodeo teams got a good buy. Edler, from State Center, Iowa, moved from ninth place to first to win his first world championship at his first NFR. He also got his first average title and announced to the world that he is going to be a dad for the first time in his interview for the Cowboy Channel. That’s a lot of firsts!!!
Colby Lovell from Madisonville, Texas and Paul Eaves from Lonedell, Missouri got their gold buckles in dramatic fashion as well. They had placed in a couple of rounds, had some bad luck in some and thought they were out of the mix. Then they won round eight, tied for the win in round nine and a win in round ten saw them at the top of the leaderboard. Colby was heading at his seventh NFR and this is his first gold buckle. Paul now has two. He won his first heeling for Clay Smith in 2018.
The most dynamic team in the barrel racing nearly kept the dog out of the fight. Hailey Kinsel from Cotulla, Texas, and her great mare, DM Sissy Hayday “Sister”, won their third consecutive world championships. They entered the NFR in second place with $78,461 and were the high-money earners in Globe Life Field. For that $270,615, she also got the RAM Top Gun Award. She is the first barrel racer to win it since Mary Walker did that when she got her world championship in 2012.
All of the event championships came down to the tenth round. Hailey had enough of an edge that it would have been nearly impossible to knock her out of the top spot. But she also had her eye on her first NFR average championship. She and Sister accomplished that goal with Sister making nine out of the ten runs. Hailey gave her a night off then they came back and set a Pro Rodeo record on a standard pattern. After winning the average, Hailey took her victory lap around Globe Life Field on Sister instead of the optional horse that is provided. That brought the crowd to their feet.
The 2020 NFR did not disappoint in any area in my opinion. Every year, I think the next year is going to be an interesting year in rodeo. And every year I’m right. The people and animals in this sport are undeniably the best in my book and they prove it day in and day out from county fairs to professional sporting venues. The challenges of 2020 are continuing into the beginning of 2021. Before we face all of those, I hope everyone will take time to enjoy this very special Holiday Season, hug your loved ones even if it’s virtual and count your blessings. That’s what I’m going to do.